Guide to Outfit Screenshots

I've always found it strange that this guide was originally a handful of simple bullets with a few useful tips and tricks for taking some decent screenshots. Having the opportunity to review this blog fully in recent days, I've noticed a significant amount of photo-snapping wisdom scattered across multiple posts. A bit of advice here, a snippet of wisdom there...that sort of thing. To make it easier, I've decided to compile all of that info and divulge everything I know here while keeping the beginning player in mind.

Keep in mind that this is intended to provide the best quality screenshots for your PC or laptop. Don't panic if you think you can't handle top-notch graphics. If you're reduced to 5 FPS in-game, I'm sure you'll find it worth every moment. Just don't forget to restore your client's previous settings once you're done!

(Illustrating the difference between settings in this pic)
Which client should I chose?

For those of you that aren't aware of this (I know I wasn't for two years), there are actually two clients for The Lord of the Rings Online; the standard resolution client and the high resolution client. In March of 2014, I found myself having to reinstall LOTRO after several of the game's files became irreparably damaged. It's important to mention that when downloading your client, you'll always have a choice. If you visit the LOTRO Official Site, you'll see several options. I believe the high res version is the default setting. Why I believe that? If you look closely at the linked page, you'll see "Standard Resolution (PC) " in small grey letters beneath the "PC Download Button." I don't have a Mac, so I can't confirm how that client works.

Regardless, there is always a way to upgrade your client without reinstalling the entire game (this works too if you're not sure what you're running) from the launcher. Click on the options menu, and then on the general tab. Check the box next to "Use high resolution game data", OK to apply the change, and then restart your launcher. I've provided a picture below to make the menus easier to locate.

Now that I've chosen my client, what range of quality can I expect?
Naturally, the way your game displays depends on a few factors. The first factor is the client you chose. The only difference here is the number of textures the game utilizes, as well as the clarity of those textures. The high res game will add an additional 6 GB of graphical content. Your graphics card will be the second factor in this equation. Not all cards will have the same range of capabilities and that depends on how old your PC or laptop is and/or if you've recently upgraded it. If you go to Options Menu > Graphics > Quality you'll see a dropdown window called "Overall Graphics Quality," which contains predetermined settings ranging from very low to ultra high. You want to shoot for ultra high or as close to it as your system lets you.

Here are some examples of those settings. I've chosen to take this screenshot at night for the purpose of demonstrating a range of lighting, shadows, water quality, and textures on a building: 

Same location using the high res client, running with DX11, and antialiasing set to 8x. Notice how full the trees look on high and ultra high?

The final factor is what DirectX setting you're able to use. Go to Options Menu > Graphics > Quality and look for "Graphics Hardware Level" to see this particular setting. By default, your game will be set to DirectX 9. Depending on the graphics card you're using, you might have DirectX 10 and DirectX11 available. If you're planning on taking the best screenshots, you're going to want DX11. This is a feature that generally increases the quality of shadowing, lighting, and textures. Also, selecting either DX10 or DX11 will activate a new setting in the graphics panel called antialiasing. This is a special feature that allows you to smoothen your graphics and reduce the jaggedness of any object on your screen. Cranking it up to 8x is recommended.

Whatever settings you end up having, always aim for either ultra high in the Graphics panel or the highest settings your computer can accommodate! 

Just so you know, there are many more filters and settings you can change in the Advanced Graphics menu, most of them dealing with shadows, dynamic lighting effects, atmospheric quality, and texture qualities. Although using one of the presets from the Graphics menu will automatically adjust these for you, it's a great idea to familiarize yourself with them. I don't play with them much, as ultra high already cranks every setting to the max, but your system might not be as good as mine...perhaps it's even better : )

When is the best time to take screenshots?

For starters, the optimal time is during the day, rain or shine. The sunlight is at its brightest from late morning to mid afternoon, creating ideal conditions at any given location while enhancing the colors of your outfit. Bright daylight also makes patterns in your clothing stand out easier. Taking your screenshot at dawn can result in reduced lighting, though it intensifies as time passes. When it's dusk, everything will be initially cast in an orange light, adding a tint to anything taken, and whatever natural light is left will gradually diminish.

When night rolls around, the least ideal time, you'll want to use artificial light sources, such as torches, lanterns, fireplaces, glowing crystals (crystals are only found in Moria), etc. because the moonlight is very weak. Nighttime sessions are very difficult, but if done properly, can improve an outfit's aesthetic quality or intended concept. Keep in mind that fires, or anything with a non-white glow, will slightly tint your clothing while in the vicinity.

Whatever time of day it is, always remember to face south, or as close to it as possible. Despite the fact the sun and moon both rise from the east and set in the west, natural sources of light only come from the south in LOTRO.

Courtesy of Devonna, from The Lotro Stylist, here are the cycles of in-game days and their lengths:

Day-Time lasts 1 hour 42 minutes 20 seconds
Dawn = 9 minutes 32 seconds
Morning = 28 minutes 42 seconds
Noon = 17 minutes 47 seconds
Afternoon = 27 minutes 58 seconds
Dusk = 18 minutes 21 seconds

Night-Time lasts 1 hour 23 minutes 40 seconds
Gloaming = 9 minutes 30 seconds
Evening = 27 minutes 59 seconds
Midnight = 8 minutes 59 seconds
Late Watches = 19 minutes 1 second
Foredawn = 18 minutes 11 seconds

Where I am, the lighting doesn't feel right. Can I do anything about this?

There are some great tools available through the Graphics and Advanced Graphics panels in the options menu that will help you manipulate lighting to a certain extent. Some of these tools won't be of much use, but they can make a difference. Here are five settings that you could adjust: ambient lighting, brightness, contrast, gamma, and the overbright bloom filter. Although there are other settings found in these menus, the ones listed here only help make your outfits easier to see. They don't improve the details themselves.
  • Ambient light is a fantastic feature. With the slider, you can adjust the intensity of light coming from all sources, making lanterns and fires seem to produce either more or less light. The slider starts at zero, so you can never make anything produce less light than the base setting.
  • Brightness simply affects how white or black everything appears on your screen (greyscale essentially). This is a feature that should be altered minimally, as dark colors become greyish while moving the slider right and light colors become dark when moving it left. Keep it as close to 1.00 on the scale as possible.**
  • Contrast simply makes your brights brighter and your darks darker as you move the slider right. Moving it left has the opposite effect. As with brightness, use this sparingly. Keep it as close to 1.00 on the scale as possible.**
  • The gamma level slider determines the luminosity of anything you see. Unlike ambient light, gamma doesn't affect how much light an object creates. Instead, it either intensifies or diminishes existing lighting levels. You can be a little more liberal with this than contrast and brightness. Keep it as close to 1.00 on the scale as possible.**
  • The overbright bloom filter, which affects how intensely white areas glow, is only useful on ultra-high settings. Disabling bloom will make the difference between a white dress being a white dress or a giant ball of white light. This is a simple toggle. 
**These three settings are actually tied into your monitor settings. Changing these also affects what you see outside of the game.

Help! It's too dark and I can't see enough of my character!

This is a problem easily solved. At night or whenever you're inside a cave or dimly lit space, your "personal lantern" becomes very handy. Basically, it's an angled, invisible light suspended slightly higher than your character's head. By pressing Alt+F10, you can toggle it between three settings--front, back, and off. Each time you use the keybind, you'll rotate through those settings in that order, never having more than one given intensity toggled.

There are a couple things to mention here. First, using it out in the open for a picture can make your outfit look strange. This is something best paired with other artificial sources of light for a more natural look. Second, this a great tool to use in proximity to a wall. Despite the limited range of the lantern, the light does reflect back somewhat, making it easier to take pictures when no other sources of light are nearby. Third, your personal lantern won't function in outdoor spaces during the day.

I've provided pictures below to show the toggled "phases" of the personal lantern.

I've made this fantastic outfit, but I don't know where to take pictures!

I'm sure that most outfitters have thought this at one time or another. If you've made an outfit for the sake of making an outfit, almost any location can be suitable. But when you've made an outfit with a specific context or purpose, finding the right location to showcase your creation can truly make it come to life. There are many places in Middle-earth from which to chose, each with subtle differences in lighting, vegetation, sky coloration, terrain, and weather. The first question you should ask yourself is "What was the basic idea behind this outfit?" followed by either "Is this more of an indoor or outdoor ensemble?" or "What region does this outfit connect with most?" Usually, this is a good place to start.

Here's a piece of advice for you. As you quest or travel across the landscape, take notes about locations that interest you. Was there something specific about it that you liked? The variety of flowers? The color of the sky at sunset? The brook running through the middle of a forest? It'll significantly cut down on the time you spend searching for that special spot. Sometimes, while thinking of your reasons, you'll feel the urge to make an outfit or your mind might jump to a particular piece of gear that fits wherever you are. That's great! Half the work is done for you!

Don't forget that you can also use instance and skirmish spaces for screenshots!

I've found a place! Any specific advice when I'm using a location?

Depending on your location, there can be difficulties. We'll start with indoor locations, which will include houses, mead halls, caves, barrows, or any other closed spaces. Most of the time, your lantern will function in these places. If there's any hope of a screenshot in place like this, that lantern will do it. Otherwise, places like this are not worth using. These environments are generally too cramped or don't offer enough sources of white light.

Outdoor locations are best, as these will account for ninety percent of your screenshots. Here are the basics. Have your character face in a southerly direction to get the most sunlight. If you're wanting to take a snapshot from behind, have your character face north. Keep an eye on your surroundings, avoiding objects that can obscure your character. Bushes and tall grass can easily get in the way of boots, pants, and dresses. Avoid shadows, unless you're using them for dramatic effect. Try to keep your background as uncluttered and simple as possible to avoid distractions. Distant, but clear backdrops are best. (I've observed over the years that anyone viewing your screenshot will notice the face and upper body before anything else.) Of course, you can always use a background that contrasts with your clothing as an alternative to making your character stand out.

Some places don't have a normal atmosphere. Should I find another location?

It's not always necessary to relocate, but you should pay attention to the atmosphere of your chosen location. Most zones in LOTRO offer clear air and bright, neutral light. Some zones, however, have particular nuances that can affect picture clarity. Lothl√≥rien and Mirkwood, for example, have a permanent haze. The Misty Mountains are frequently subjected to blizzards. The Refuge of Edhelion is covered in a thick brownish fog. Sometimes crossing into certain areas will result in the sky going dark, even in the middle of the day. The area around Barad Gularan in Angmar is an example. The same thing for the dread zone in the ruins of the Chetwood. 

Here are a few atmospheric comparisons for your convenience:

You don't always have the luxury of controlling a zone's atmosphere. However, there are ways to suppress or minimize the effects of particular places. The first option I would suggest is look at your bloom intensity slider in the Post Processing section of the Advanced Graphics panel and slide it to the left. There is a good chance you'll be able to reduce the haze in places like Lothl√≥rien enough to take a clear picture. If that doesn't work, try unchecking Post Processing Effects in the same panel, even though you'll lose all other bloom/glow effects and, if you're near any, water textures. As for dread zones, you can disable Dread Effects found in UI Settings. Otherwise, there's nothing else you can do. If weather is an issue, like rain or snow, the best thing you can do is wait for it to finish and come back during the next in-game day.

With what do I take my screenshots and where are they stored on my computer?

There are a variety of methods you can use to capture client images.

  • The first method is using the one of the screenshot keybinds in LOTRO, which are F11, Ctrl+P, or whatever keybind you choose. LOTRO automatically saves your captures as JPEG (.jpg) files in your The Lord of the Rings Online folder, which is found in My Documents. 
  • The second method is to use Alt+Print Screen. This snaps an image of whatever is active on your desktop in bitmap (.bmp) format and places it on the clipboard. Open whatever editing software you use and simply paste it. Save it if you like it. However, LOTRO must be in windowed mode for this method to work, otherwise it'll take a screenshot of whatever is running under your client. Keep in mind that your clipboard can only hold one image at a time.
  • The third method, the one I use, is to take your screenshots with a free program called FRAPS. It has the ability to take pictures in either JPEG or bitmap format. When you install this program, you can choose where you'd like your pictures to be automatically saved and which keybind takes them.

Every picture taken here, after early October 2013, was taken with FRAPS and saved as bitmap files, even though I upload them here in .png format (Blogspot only provides so much picture storage space). You might be wondering why I use this third party software. FRAPS has distinct advantages over the other two methods. First, bitmap files fully preserve the color quality and image clarity you see in-game pixel for pixel. JPEGs are slightly pixelated and can mute the most vibrant of colors. Second, you can take multiple shots, especially if you're trying to capture dynamic poses. Unlike LOTRO, which lags at every press of the hotkey after accruing enough screenshots, there isn't a delay between button presses. In fact, you can take as many pictures in a second as fast as you can spam the key. Third, this is far superior to using Alt+Print Screen because you'll never have to paste one image at a time into your editing program or try to perfectly time the screenshot.

What settings help me make the most of a screenshot?

Aside of lighting and location, there are still a couple tiny details to mention. At the very least, it's a great idea to hide floating names in LOTRO by pressing the "N" key. You also can toggle your UI on and off by pressing F12. Just doing these two things will remove most extraneous elements from your screenies. 

If you're going to take pictures in combat, there are still a few things you can do. You should disable any settings that may interfere, like the reticule that comes with the "show the vitals of your selection's target" in your Combat Options menu. I'd also recommend turning off floating numbers, like exp and damage in your UI Settings.

At this point, anything else you do is entirely optional. You can disable dread effects, blood effects, combat hit effects, avatar hit effects, and monster attack effects. However, these settings are purely aesthetic. I usually take my pictures with all of these disabled that way I don't see the glowing, flaming, sparkling particle effects. Though, for special effect, I might enable avatar hit effects for my own skill animations. Like I said, it's up to you. Some prefer all the fluff that comes with a skill.

How do I make my character come alive in my pictures?

Easily solved. Use your emotes and your skills! While the animations are progressing, you'll want to spam your screenshot key as quickly as possible to capture a multitude of interesting positions. This is a great way to repurpose those animations you've seen for levels on end! The more pictures you take, the better chance you have of finding something dynamic. Let me show you some examples already found on my blog.

To the left is one of my hobbit alts, Pennycandy. Here, you see her looking up and pointing at a specific keg filled with ale. This is actually the /whippitydo emote. To the right is my champion, Satella. I used the ending sequence of the rend skill to create a wide, but crouched defensive stance.

Before you start spamming away your skills, memorize their locations and bindings on your quickbars. Once you remove floating names and hide your UI (the "N" key and F12, respectively), you won't be able to see where you've placed what skills. Emotes are a tad more difficult to use. I can suggest two approaches. Use your emote by either selecting it from the list next to your chat bar or typing it into your char bar, quickly hiding your UI, and then spamming your screenshot key. You can also bind emotes to your numerical keys. I'll teach you the chat bar command, followed by a working example:

/shortcut <numerical key> /<emote>  would become /shortcut 2 /dance_elf

And this would allow your character, with the UI hidden, to perform that emote by using the assigned key.

How should I position my character in my pictures?

This is my final piece of advice. Even though positioning your character is at your discretion, I would suggest zooming in far enough to keep your entire character visible. Generally, I recommend leaving a tiny space between the feet and the bottom of the screen, that way it doesn't look like your character is standing against a 2D background. If you browse through my blog, you'll notice I often keep my feet visible, whether or not I'm performing an action pose. The only time I use a close-up is when I want a detailed picture of the waist up.

Thank you for browsing this guide and I hope it helps!

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